Wednesday, December 7

The Count of Romanones, clientelism and foul play in the 20th century

For several decades, Álvaro de Figueroa y Torres, Count of Romanones, was such a popular and powerful figure that people rebuked those who showed presumption or arrogance with this question: “Who do you think you are, Count Romanones?” . Mayor of Madrid, minister in several cabinets of the monarchy of Alfonso XIII, head of the Government on two occasions, president of the Senate, landowner, mining entrepreneur and owner of newspapers, Romanones (Madrid, 1863-1950) marked politics and society Spanish throughout the first third of the 20th century. Known and feared for his cunning, his intelligence and his lack of scruples, the life of this nobleman, lame since childhood due to a fall, with a prominent nose and pointed mustache, cannot be reduced to a Manichean or simplistic vision because it offers infinite nuances . This is how the journalist and writer Mar Abad (Almería, 1972) describes it in a very agile biography, with a literary style and a rigorous background entitled Romanones, a zarzuela of power in 37 acts (Libros del KO), to which he has dedicated several years of research and writing.

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Author of a book about pioneering journalists such as Carmen de Burgos or Sofía Casanovas —and an occasional collaborator in the Opinion section of—, the writer of this biography found the famous count everywhere in that investigation and for the reasons more varied. “He intrigued me a lot,” says Mar Abad in a chat with this newspaper, “this omnipresence of Romanones in all the scrubs of that time because he really was the one who cut the cod.” “From that curiosity, I found a character with many facets who symbolized the complexity of politics and served as a portrait of a historical period. Through Romanones as a common thread, the half century of the Restoration can be understood, which spans from the end of the 19th century to the proclamation of the Second Republic. In any case, I have tried to flee from sectarianism and prejudices that have marked both right-wing and left-wing historians when they have approached this political animal”, she explains.

I have tried to flee from sectarianism and prejudices that have marked both right-wing and left-wing historians when they have approached this political animal

sea ​​abbot
Journalist and essayist

The count was a peculiar type, a great seducer and a skillful maneuverer who conversed with Galdós as well as with nobles or peasants; that the same overthrew governments that betrayed his allies; that he participated in endless conspiracies from the ranks of the Liberal Party in times of caciquism and clientelism. “Now”, clarifies the biographer, “his profile of him is very ambivalent and not very pigeonholed. The Count of Romanones was a great cacique obsessed with power, but also a reformist liberal; he belonged to the aristocracy and ruling elites and, at the same time, was a lay enemy of the privileges of the Church; He had shady business dealings, but under his mandate the eight-hour work day or the inclusion of teachers’ salaries in the state budget were approved. In short, he acted as a politician with many edges and an example of patronage and dirty tricks in the first third of the 20th century. He had the ambition to command for power in himself, at the same time that he coveted the positions to transform reality. We could say that his biography represents an x-ray of power, that of the politician without principles, although always in favor of a parliamentary monarchy”.

bullied at school

His double status as politician and writer is also surprising in Romanones, since he left as a legacy not only some interesting memoirs, but also essays, aphorisms and biographies of historical figures. Published in the 1940s, his memoirs dare to affirm that “the truth is that they contain very useful lessons for present and future generations.” The count was not exactly modest. Along with this confession, Mar argues that Romanones serves “as an example of a reverse teacher, that is, of what should not be done in politics.” “However”, adds the biographer, “he always defended democracy as the best option against the alternative of dictatorships. In fact, he opposed the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera and conspired against this general who ruled with the support of Alfonso XIII between 1923 and 1930”. After that failed experience, Romanones proposed to hold the decisive municipal elections in April 1931 that paved the way for the Republic. And, as an example of his fundamental role at the time, the count was commissioned by Alfonso XIII to negotiate the monarch’s departure from Spain with Niceto Alcalá-Zamora, president of the Republican provisional government.

On the other hand, the life of Romanones, a character still little known by the general public today and subject to many clichés and legends, represents a model of improvement based on the harassment he suffered as a child due to his limp. Cruelly caricatured by the cartoonists of the time and sung about his ambition and his physical defects in popular couplets, the count managed to overcome adversity. “I believe”, says Abad, a journalist who has traveled through various journalistic media and genres, “that the count endured insults and ridicule and his ambition drifted towards culture and political power. In fact, his limp was a spur to be a good student and later become an intellectual admirer of France and England who turned to politics, a rare combination. Suffice it to say that at the University he fought with his classmates to sit in the front row and follow the professors’ explanations more closely”.

Support for the rebels

Already an old man, Romanones supported the 1936 military uprising against the Republic and the Franco regime rewarded him with a position as attorney in the Cortes, which he held for a couple of years after the war. However, according to the biographer, the count continued to be an uncomfortable character for the dictatorship because, above all, he was committed to a parliamentary monarchy and came into contact with Don Juan de Borbón. “Francoism distanced itself from Romanones to such an extent,” explains Mar Abad, “that his memoirs were censored in several chapters.” Despite the fact that his funeral in 1950 was surrounded by pomp and ceremony, the propagandists of the dictatorship did not take much interest in vindicating the figure of a count who wrote aphorisms like this: “Subtlety is a great condition for political life. It is penetrating the thoughts of others without traces of violence”. It is clear that dictatorships are not usually very subtle nor do they exclude violence in their actions.

As has happened with so many other historical figures who can provide lessons for the present, Romanones’ trail faded over time. But Mar Abad maintains in his “zarzuela del poder en 37 acts” that he went in search of Romanones because he understood that in order to know the history of the Restoration and the monarchy of Alfonso XIII, he had to meet the count, a common thread that ran through half a century from Spain.